February 5, 2000
At least a dozen people called me Wednesday, each wanting me to know about the
death of my good friend, Bob Baggott. Like everyone else I could hardly believe the news
that Bob was gone.
Whatever we mean by the phrase, "living legend," I believe it applied to Bob. He was about as well known as any man who lived in Lee County. I can still remember how surprised people were when, moving here in 1989, I had to admit that I did not know Bob Baggott. It seemed that everybody else knew him.
His reputation could be summed up in one phrase: "He's the funniest man you'll ever meet." Funnier than Lewis Grizzard? The answer was, "Well, almost, but Bob's humor is much cleaner." For a long time there was no one I wanted to get to know more than the famous Bob Baggott.
That opportunity came when Bob and Betty moved back to Opelika from Birmingham and began to serve the Farmville Baptist Church. Never one to stay in the back of the pack, Bob began running an ad in the Opelika -Auburn News. The ad included his picture and the information that his ministry was "As conservative as the Word of God, and as liberal as the Love of God."
The ad was an example of Bob's innovative style. Every time I saw the ad it made me ask, "Why didn't I think of that?" When newcomers to the area asked me about Bob, I always said, "He is the only preacher in Lee County whose picture is in the paper every week." I frankly envied his creativity.
Bob's outgoing personality won him friends everywhere he went. He was indeed "liberal" in caring for others. He had a gift for giving you a lift, making you feel worthwhile. An encourager he was in every sense of the word.
Everytime I ran into him, whether at the hospital or at some community event, he went out of his way to compliment me for my ministry. Before I could brag about something he had done, he was praising me for something I had done. As I look back on it now, I realize that everytime I encountered Bob he made me feel good about myself.
Bob was liberal in the use of his time and influence. Just last week he showed up at a cooperative ministry meeting for no other reason that to say by his presence, "This is a good thing you folks are attempting to do." He was there simply to encourage the efforts of his friends.
Younger preachers could benefit from Bob's example. He refused to stay bottled up in his study preparing sermons. He did not limit his ministry to the affairs of his own congregation. Wherever people were trying to help other people, like the work of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Habitat for Humanity, Bob was ready to offer a helping hand. That trait required that he find time to be involved with many community ministries.
Bob was easy to get to know. Never one for formality and titles, he enjoyed being simply "Bob." I cannot remember a single time I ever heard someone call him "Doctor Baggott," even though he had a doctor of ministry degree. He was content to be "Bob" to people in high places and low places. I admired that about him.
I had many things in common with Bob. We both loved Auburn, especially the football team. Bob was the chaplain of the football team for many years. What preacher would not have envied that honor which Bob enjoyed so much! It was but one more example of his conviction that a preacher needs to be deeply involved in his community, and always with the hope of promoting not himself but the Kingdom of God. Bob did that superbly.
We both loved humor. Sharing funny stories was Bob's forte. Never at a loss for words, Bob could have an audience in stitches within minutes. In getting to know Bob I discovered that he deserved the reputation of being "the funniest man you'll ever meet."
Funny? Yes, Lord, Bob was funny. Known for his hilarious humor, he was invited to speak everywhere. Only a few weeks ago he spoke to the seniors of our church and had them howling. My wife said, "He had me laughing so hard that tears were running down my face!"
Wednesday night at their home Betty and her family were receiving many people who, like my wife and me, were simply trying to do what Bob was always doing so well -- offering comfort and encouragement. We all had the same words on our lips: "It's so hard believe he is dead."
It is hard to believe that one who was so full of life, with so much to offer, has suddenly departed. Bob was the kind of man everyone hates to lose.
What is not hard to believe is that, though dead, Bob is now more alive than ever before. He has gone home, there to add his voice to the glorious laughter of heaven.
What is easy to believe is that early Wednesday morning the Lord Bob loved said to him, "Bob, it's time to come home now. I have another assignment for you. There is a group of saints up here who never learned to laugh before they got here, and I want you to tell them some of your stories."
We will miss Bob but we will never forget his legacy. He reminded us of the value of laughter in daily life. He showed us that to know God is to learn how to live, to love, and to laugh. That is a legacy that will last, for which all who knew this contagious man of God may give thanks.